Evolution of secondary metabolite production: potential roles for antibiotics as prebiotic effectors of catalytic RNA reactions

Ciba Found Symp. 1992;171:24-32; discussion 32-44. doi: 10.1002/9780470514344.ch3.


It has been proposed that organic molecules related to known secondary metabolites have existed since the beginning of biochemical evolution and were present in primordial soups. Under primitive earth conditions certain of these molecules may have played roles as effectors in prebiotic reactions, especially those involving catalytic RNA (ribozymes). We demonstrate that a number of antibiotic-related secondary metabolites bind to group I introns and either inhibit splicing reactions or promote the formation of intron oligomers. This is consistent with the functional co-evolution of catalytic RNA and secondary metabolites as antibiotic inhibitors of translation, and supports the notion of an evolutionary relationship between group I introns and ribosomal RNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Introns / physiology
  • Origin of Life*
  • RNA, Catalytic / metabolism*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • RNA, Catalytic